Connect with us

Movie Reviews

Joy Ride ★★★★



DirectorAdele Lim

CastStephanie Hsu, Ashley Park, Sabrina Wu Sherry Cola

ReleaseAugust 4th 2023

Let’s be honest, R-rated comedies are not an Asian thing. In recent years, Hollywood has seen Asians make an impact in romantic comedies, dramas and yes, multiverses. But having an R-rated comedy filled with swearing, drugs and sex starring an ensemble of Asian talent? It is practically unheard of…until now.

Directed by Crazy Rich Asians co-screenwriter Adele Lim, Joy Ride stars Ashley Park, Sherry Cola, Sabrina Wu and Stephanie Hsu as friends who embark on an unlikely adventure across Asia.

Lolo and adoptee Audrey are childhood BFFs in White Hills – a notably White town. As soon as Lolo jumps (nay, punches) to Audrey’s defence when confronted by a racist kid, this violent encounter sets the tone for their unconditional friendship. Fast-forward 20-ish years and Audrey (Park) is now a successful lawyer while Lolo (Cola) is a no-nonsense, free-spirited artist with a passion for erotica. With a huge promotion on the line, Audrey goes on an important work trip to Beijing with Lolo and Lolo’s cousin Deadeye (Wu) as ‘translators’. After a heavy drinking session and meeting up with Audrey’s college friend-turned-actress Cat (Hsu), the trip takes a personal turn when Lolo convinces her best friend to find her birth mother.

In terms of narratives, the theme of self-discovery is a well-travelled road and so Joy Ride includes some conventional elements throughout Audrey’s journey. Raised by Caucasian parents, she cannot speak Chinese, isn’t very familiar with Asian food and unknowingly distinguishes herself by her Westernised demeanour. Put simply, she sees herself as White first and an Asian second – a very relatable struggle for Asians in the Western world. Unfortunately, this sees her tolerate the racist comments from her boss and colleagues while highlighting the cultural clashes of her own upbringing, with the sad realisation that she doesn’t feel like she belongs anywhere.

But Joy Ride is an ensemble piece, and the screenplay beautifully balances the ensemble so they are all integral to the narrative. Despite their differences, each character struggles with some semblance of personal identity. Cat is trying to hide her sexual past from her hot Christian fiance, Deadeye is a shy, K-pop-loving loner despite their huge family and Lolo is unable to freely express herself creatively. Their unlikely bond grows as the film goes on, and despite every obstacle they face, it becomes apparent that there is a common desire to be proud of their identity, which amps up the unexpected poignancy of this outrageous comedy.

Yes, Joy Ride is outrageous. With a mission to prove that Asians have the balls to be ballsy, Cherry Chevapravatdumrong and Teresa Hsiao’s script doesn’t hold anything back yet takes care to retain the key narrative elements of friendship and self-identity, so the characters’ journey isn’t overwhelmed by recklessness. The result is an empathetic social commentary amid a heady haze of booze, drugs, sex and even questionable tattoos that will raise eyebrows and bouts of laughter. It occasionally verges into the overly risqué but even these moments do not deter the fun factor from the film. In addition, each cast member brings something to the party –  Park brings bewilderment and heart, Cola and Hsu bring chaotic energy while Wu nails well-timed deadpan comedic moments. Without a male character disrupting the group dynamic, the cast rises to the challenge of delivering Joy Ride‘s Bechdel Test-approved screenplay with confidence and creates an ensemble that is both comical, charming and incredibly entertaining.

Marking her directorial debut, Lim controls her direction with ease to control the R-rated screenplay amid Paul Yee’s beautiful cinematography and fun-filled soundtrack. Although some parts cause the film’s pace to fluctuate due to satisfy conventions or accommodate downright weirdness (a scene involving an improv K-pop track being an unlikely but hysterical scene), there is no denying the heart and passion that shines throughout this project.

There was a time that Asians were not “box-office material”. But thanks to Joy Ride‘s quick-witted screenplay and amazing cast, they show that they can also be hilarious – everyone will be laughing now.

Just For You